Mar 31 2009

Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India: The Impact of Socially Conscious Corporate Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 3:08 pm

In my previous posts for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I have analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning and civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns.

As interesting as these initiatives are, the three most effective election campaigns in the 2009 Indian general elections are run by corporate brands: Jaago Re by Tata Tea, My Idea from Idea Cellular and Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India (Live Mint/ Thaindian/ Exchange4Media/ Hindustan Times).

In my earlier avatar as the custodian of a large brand in India, I was convinced that online campaigns in India could stand on their own, without support from ad spends in mainstream media. The tactics employed by these three successful campaigns have made me realize that online brand campaigns in India will continue to be driven by heavy spending in mainstream media.

Tata Tea Jaago Re

The Jaago Re campaign was launched by Tata Tea and Janaagraha in September 2008 (press release) to start a voter registration drive in colleges and corporates in 35 cities across the country and register four million voters. The voter registration itself is driven through an interactive application on its website and kiosks, which helps users identify their constituency, prepares a ready to print voter registration form in five minutes, guides them to the nearest voter registration center and updates them via SMS when their names are added to the voting list.

The campaign, which is run by a small team of youngsters in their twenties (The Week), has an advisory board that includes former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy, Infosys founder Narayan Murthy and Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Hindustan Times/ Indian Express/ TOI). The campaign has convinced several large colleges and companies to become 100 percent registered (TOI/ TOI/ Mid Day/ TOI/ Deccan Herald) and even convinced the election commission to allow bulk submission of registration forms.

Tata Tea has used a number of interesting ads to engage the Indian youth into the Jaago Re campaign.

Jaago Re main ad

Jaago Re Use Your Finger! Use it to Vote!

Tata Tea has also tied up with various TV channels to create micro campaigns like Bindass TV’s iChange campaign to support the Jagoo Re campaign —

Jaago Re Bindass TV Ungali Utha Vote Kar ad

Jaago Re Disney ‘If I Were a Prime Minister’ ad

Jaago Re Channel V VJ Juhi ‘Vote ya Vaat’ ad

Jaago Re also has an active social media presence with more than 15,000 members on Facebook and almost 13,000 members on Orkut.

The campaign is now conducting free Shut Up & Vote rock concerts by Bangalore-based band Thermal And A Quarter (TAAQ) across 10 cities to to engage Indian youth in the electoral process (DNA/ Indian Express/ IBN Live/ Indian Express/ DNA) —

Jaago Re has turned out to be an extremely successful campaign. Not only has it been a topic of a huge number of news stories and blog posts, and resulted in much goodwill for Tata Tea (Business Standard), it has also managed to register 531,395 voters so far, in spite of its run ins with a slow moving bureaucracy (TOI).

The Indian blogosphere is in love with the Jaago Re campaign. Rashmi Bansal believes that, with the campaign, Tata Tea has taken corporate social responsibility further than most brands do. Rajesh Kumar wonders why only beverage companies do election themed social advertising. Indian Homemaker and Chavvi Sachdev share their experiences with voter registration. Sanjukta has an interesting interview with Jaago Re campaign coordinator Jasmine Shah.

Idea Cellular My Idea

Idea Cellular‘s My Idea campaign is a continuation of its participatory democracy ad campaign where a lady politician, aided by her tech-savvy assistant Abhishek Bachchan, gathers the views of the citizens in her constituency using mobile phones —

The campaign, run by Pinstorm, asks people to submit an idea that can change India and vote on the ideas submitted by others. So far, within one month, more than 2,000 ideas have been submitted and more than 140,000 votes have been cast (Indian Television).

It’s the janus-faced Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, however, which is likely to incite the most interesting discussions in the Indian blogosphere.

TOI Lead India

The Lead India campaign carries forward the theme of its 2007 campaign, in which it ran a nationwide ‘talent-hunt’ to search for the next generation of Indian leaders. In its new avatar, it wants to enable the Indian electorate to make the right voting decision in the upcoming elections, by providing a platform for meaningful political debate and supporting the No Criminals in Politics campaign.

TOI Bleed India

At the same time, TOI’s Bleed India campaign parodies Lead India and asks —

Lead India? Where to? Up the garden Path? Round the Bend? And by who? Our Leaders? Lol!

So while the Times Of India tries to find new leaders for a new age (good luck gentlemen!), we focus instead on those who Bleed India; Masters of the Scam, Tigers of the Tightrope: Surely they deserve some acknowledgement of their genius – in staying above the law, beyond the law, in making it and in breaking it..wah! wah! Ladies and gentlemen…you have led us and yes you have bled us.

It then creates an elaborate parody of the typical Indian politician, Pappu Raj, with his own Facebook profile and Facebook page (Exchange4Media).

Anondan tears apart the Lead India print ad while Rajiv Dingra wonders what is cooking with the Lead India/ Bleed India dichotomy. On Twitter, several users like Deepak and Kanika, find the Bleed India campaign “funny and creative”, while Sumant and Aadisht believe that Bleed India is “buzz gone wrong” and “badly done sarcasm”.

Opinion is divided on whether Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India/ Bleed India are really socially conscious campaigns, or blatant attempts to generate buzz, but if engagement is the benchmark for success, these campaigns are the most effective ones running in the election season in India.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Mar 28 2009

Digital Civil Society Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 5:57 pm

In my first post for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I had analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning. In this post, I’ll detail how civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns in the run up to the elections.

The National Election Watch, a collaboration between 1200 NGOs led by Association for Democratic Reforms, seeks to increase transparency in Indian elections by combining information about constituencies and candidates with user comments and ratings on candidates. However, the website suffers from inadequate usage and the absence of rich data (Live Mint).

The Campaign for No Criminals in Politics aims to ensure that no political party gives tickets to candidates with criminal antecedents in the 2009 general elections.

Campaign for No Criminals in Politics

The data on its website is based on the affidavits submitted by the 2004 contestants. The campaign has an active Facebook group with almost 5000 members and has also launched two videos to promote its campaign —

Bharat Votes (Facebook/ Orkut) also aims to create awareness about voting using social media tools (IBN Live).

Vote India is another voter awareness website which has got some traction (AFP/ TOI/ Washington Post). It has an active presence on Twitter and Orkut (1/ 2/ 3) and has also used a video to promote itself —

Vote India’s page on section 49(O) has been widely cited in what I believe is a misguided discussion on “negative voting”. Basically, the idea is that voters should have the right to ask for a re-election by selecting a “none of the above” option, if none of the candidates are acceptable to them (DNA/ IBN Live/ Economic Times/ Live Mint/ Mid Day). A chain e-mail falsely claims that such a rule already exists. Many bloggers, like Deva Prasad and Vimoh, strongly support the idea and even call it a powerful agent of change. A Facebook group promoting the idea has more than 100 members and an online petition to recognize the negative vote also has more than 100 signatures.

Several city and state specific websites have come up to help voters register to vote and make smart choices about their candidates. SmartVote and Bangalore Voter ID in Bangalore, Mumbai Votes in Mumbai, and Future CM in Andhra Pradesh are some of the more prominent examples.

Mumbai Votes

Another category of websites aims to engage citizens into discussion and ideation on civic issues and then use the online community to initiate offline collective action at a later stage.

Lords of Odds, which runs an online sports prediction market in India, has started a Digg-like social voting micro-site called Manifesto to help citizens create their own manifesto for the elections.

Lords of Odds Manifesto

I think that a social voting website focused on the elections is a great idea. In fact, three months back, I was toying with the idea of starting one myself at IndiaTalks. I wish that NGOPost, which runs an active social voting community on social welfare issues, would start a separate section on the elections.

Praja aims to use online tools to build a community of engaged citizens who can be mobilized to participate in offline collective action. Youth for Equality aims to build a political movement to end caste-based reservations in India. The Wada Na Todo Abhiyan aims to hold the government accountable to its promise to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. Change India, started by Lead India winner Rajendra Misra aims to channelize the energies of citizens, by building online and offline participatory platforms, to solve India’s many problems (Rajendra Misra has recently joined BJP, so the initiative is hardly non-partisan anymore (DNA)). India Banao also aims to provide a platform for young people to participate in public affairs. For many of these websites, online participation is limited, and their effectiveness in organizing offline action is suspect.

Yet another category of websites aim to become the default source of news and analysis related the 2009 general elections.

IndiPepal

IndiPepal is perhaps the most ambitious of these with blogs from several well-known analysts, but India Voting (Indian Express/ IBN Live), Engage Voter, India Numbers and India Votes 2009 also have content rich websites. These websites, however, are directly competing with election microsites from mainstream media — TOI, TOI Your Voice, DNA, The Hindu, Yahoo!, Yahoo! Your Manifesto, MSN, Rediff, NDTV and IBN Live (via Sidin Vadukut at Live Mint).

The Indian blogosphere has reacted positively to these grassroots initiatives, even though they have got limited traction. For instance, the ‘Indian Homemaker’ believes that campaigns like ‘No Criminals’ are a sign that we can still make a difference. Rajiv Dingra at WATBlog and Preethi J at Medianama have done good roundups of these initiatives.

Finally, the three most effective “civil society” campaigns in the 2009 general elections are run by corporate brands: Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, Jaago Re by Tata Tea and My Idea from Idea Cellular. I’ll cover these three campaigns in the next post in the series.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

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Mar 22 2009

How Internet and Mobile Technologies are Transforming Election Campaigning in India

by at 10:44 pm

Politics in India is essentially local and India’s voters elect their representatives based on small local and regional issues, instead of the big national issues. As a result, election rallies and door-to-door canvassing, supplemented by local hoardings and print ads in the vernacular languages have traditionally been at the core of election campaigning in India.

In 2004, the incumbent BJP broke away from this pattern with its aggressive nation-wide ‘India Shining’ campaign. It recruited advertising and PR agencies to manage its campaign, focused on the urban first time voter, advertised heavily on print and television, and allocated 5% of its campaign budget to an e-campaign, for revamping its campaign website, pushing out text messages, pre-recorded voice clips and emails to its database of 20 million email users and 20 million phone users, and offering campaign-related mobile ringtones for download (BBC/ BBC/ Rediff/ Hindu). The ‘India Shining’ campaign didn’t work eventually, and Sonia Gandhi led Congress to a surprise victory, once again reaffirming the almost magical appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi family amongst India’s voters. Many observers even attributed BJP’s loss to its “elitist” ‘India Shining’ campaign (Live Mint).

In spite of its “failure”, BJP’s India Shining campaign has set the pattern for all Indian election campaigns since then: spend 40-50% on print, 20% on outdoors, 15% on TV, 5%-10% on internet and mobile and the rest on radio, film theaters and on-ground activities (Live Mint).

What, then, has changed since 2004? For one, the demographic profile of India’s electoral based has shifted. More than half of India’s 1150 million population is younger than 25, 42 million new voters have entered the electorate since 2004, and, as a result of the newly delimited constituencies, the importance of urban votes has increased in the electoral collage. Not only that, the internet and mobile penetration in India has increased dramatically since 2004, from 26 million to 365 million for mobile, and from 16 million to 80 million for the internet. Even more importantly, shaken by the 11/26 Mumbai terrorist attack, and inspired by Barack Obama’s success in the US elections, the young urban Indian is likely to step out to vote for the first time in India’s recent electoral history. As a result, both BJP and Congress are targeting young, urban voters like never before. BJP and Congress, however, have adopted different tactic to appeal to this audience. While Congress is banking on the youthful appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the 39 year of scion of the Gandhi family, BJP has embarked on an aggressive 360 degree campaign, inspired by the Obama campaign (Chicago Tribune/ AFP/ Indian Express/ TOI/ Reuters).

While BJP’s official website is nothing but a brochure, Lal Krishna Advani’s website has several interesting features. To begin with, LK Advani’s blog has been active since January 2009 and each of the ten odd posts have between 50 to 150 comments. Surprisingly, the Hindi version of LK Advani’s blog has very few comments. The forum on LK Advani’s website isn’t much to look at, but it’s doing well, with 6586 members, 2940 topics, and 9354 posts.

The Advani@Campus initiative seeks to build a grassroots volunteer campaign “to contact and mobilize young voters in thousands of college campuses across the country” (Telegraph/ DNA/ NDTV/ Indian Express). The focus on recruiting volunteers is reflected in a well-structured volunteer program. The tasks range from recruiting first time voters, promoting LK Advani’s website and social media profiles, translating sections of the website, designing banner ads, and helping out with other campaign work. According to one report, BJP has recruited more than 7000 volunteers through the website (Business Standard).

Bloggers for Advani

Especially interesting is the Bloggers for Advani initiative run by Mallika Noorani. The initiative is coordinated through a Google Group (started based on a suggestion by yours truly), and encourages bloggers to display a Bloggers for Advani button and promote BJP’s ideas on their blogs.

Advani youtube channel

It seems that most of the social media initiatives on the Advani campaign are run by volunteers and encouraged by the campaign coordinators. In any case, it’s difficult to identify which profiles or groups are official and which are unofficial. The official website links to a LK Advani Facebook page (with 390 supporters) and an Advani for PM Orkut group (with 960 members), but there are several other unofficial groups with similar memberships. The (official?) BJP Supporters Group on Orkut has 22,157 members. Similarly, there’s confusion about whether the @BJP_ Twitter profile, which has 416 followers is indeed official.

bjp_twitter_profile

A group which seems to work closely with the campaign team is the Friends of BJP group (Facebook/ Orkut), which includes several prominent professionals including Rajesh Jain and R K Mishra. Another unofficial website which is getting some traction is Join BJP.

Apart from these national level initiatives, several BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and V K Malhotra also have well-designed websites. Narendra Modi and V K Malhotra also have Twitter profiles.

The BJP is also running an aggressive online ad campaign, primarily with Google, with search ads across as many as 200,000 keywords, placement ads across 50,000 websites, and banner ads across 2,000 websites. With a billion searches every month, BJP’s campaign is expected to recah 75% of India’s internet users (Live Mint/ Economics Times).

BJP is also planning to send one billion SMSes to about 250 million cellphone users, who are not enrolled in the Do-Not-Call registry. Overall, telecom operators expect to make an additional revenue of $10 million from an extra traffic of 3-4 billion SMSes sent by all the political parties, apart from money from from multimedia messages, songs and wallpapers (Economic Times/ Indian Express/ Financial Express).

Last week, the BJP also released a detailed 30-page IT Vision document (PDF) with much fanfare. The document is partly a road map to reform and partly a pre-election populist pipe dream. It promises to give the highest priority to developing IT infrastructure and leveraging it for better governance and inclusive development. Specifically, it promises to match China on all IT-related parameters within 5 years. While many observers have dismissed the document as pre-election populism, others have pointed out that it is a testament to BJP’s forward looking thinking that it believes that it can win an election by promising to transform India into an IT super-power.

vote_for_congress

The Indian National Congress, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in the web 1.0 era. Both the official Congress website and the Congress Media websites are online brochures. The Vote for Congress portal, which was supposed to revolutionize its online campaign by providing the Congress candidates a platform to blog (Hindu/ TOI), is still not up. None of the senior Congress leaders — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Manmohan Singh — have a website and, what’s worse, their URLs are owned by cyber-squatters (Indian Express). The party does want to set up 600 internet kiosks across the country (Hindu) but without engaging interactive content, their effectiveness might be limited.

Shashi Tharoor — author and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations — is perhaps the only Congress candidate to seriously leverage the web in his campaign, with presence on Facebook and Orkut (CIOL/ Sify). Former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna has a Twitter profile. Some of the younger Congress candidates like Priya Dutt, Milind Deora (Facebook) and Sachin Pilot also have well-designed websites, but aren’t really active on social media.

vote_for_cpim

Several other regional parties have either set up, or revamped, their websites, in the run up to the general elections. The CPI-M (Live Mint/ Hindu/ Economic Times/ Indian Express) and Samajvadi Party websites seem to be the most well-designed. However, none of these websites are using social media tools, beyond asking for donations and newsletter subscriptions.

Many observers have pointed out that the digital campaigns by BJP and other Indian political parties are amateurish in comparison to Barack Obama’s social media campaign (CIOL/ Networked World) and they are right. BJP’s digital campaign can hardly be compared to Obama’a campaign, in terms of ambition, execution or results. The campaign is hardly going to change the course of the election; the election will still be decided in India’s small towns and villages. But, even if it “fails”, the campaign will set a precedent for all future elections in India, just like the ‘India Shining’ campaign did, five years ago.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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